As I have talked to my girls about these and other experiences, and also talked with other dads with daughters, I have come up with some thoughts about what it takes to stay close to our daughters through their growing up years.
1. Respect her mom. While girls like to love their daddies, their mom is really their number one role model. If you make an effort to show their mom respect, whether or not you are still married to her, it will help your daughter love and respect you more. If you demean her mom or make Mom seem smaller in your daughter's eyes, you are just putting a distance between your girl and you.
2. Know her friends. Particularly in the later elementary years and early secondary years, your daughter's friends become a really important part of her life. She will tell them things she won't ever tell you or her mom. So make sure you know who her friends are. Host a few parties or sleepovers at your place so you can get to know them better.
3. Learn to listen. One thing I have learned is that girls need to be listened to much more than they need to hear what you have to say. Try listening without judging and without offering advice. Comment only in an effort to understand better what she is saying and what she is feeling. Reflective listening is an important skill for fathers to develop, and your daughter will appreciate your focused efforts to listen for understanding.
4. Read together. One of the things my girls comment on is the time we took when they were little to sit down together on the couch or the recliner and read books together. It not only helps them learn to love reading, but it gives you common ground for later discussions. For example, reading Alice in Wonderland together will help you later when you teach her about making good decisions, setting goals and getting and staying on positive paths.
5. Take her on dates. While I didn't do it as often as I should have, taking your daughters on dates every other month or so is a great way to stay connected. Take her out to lunch, to a movie, or to the bowling alley. The one-on-one time a date offers, along with being in a more relaxed environment than at home, will be time you cherish and she will remember.
6. Get involved in her interests. If you daughter is into soccer, offer to coach the team or at least go to games and practices with her. If she is taking music lessons, listen to her practice and go to recitals. Complement her on her involvement in her interests, hobbies and diversions. Learn something about her interest so you can talk about it and so you can help her excel.
7. Help with homework. Now I have to admit, being stuck around the kitchen table for two hours doing geometry is not my definition of fun, but it has been a great bonding time for me with my kids. And it lets your daughter know that you value education and developing life skills.
8. Be there at the crossroads. At the important moments in your daughter's life, make sure you are there. Schedule and keep the appointments for the rites of passage like her birthdays, first day of school, first day at junior high, first date, first dance, first prom, and so forth. These are moments she'll remember all her life, and you will have been a part of them with her.
9. Make and keep promises. The way we build trust with our daughters is by making and keeping promises. If you commit to take her out on a date, let nothing get in the way. If you tell her you are coming to her dance recital, make sure you are there. If you promise to keep a confidence, don't share it with others. Her seeing you follow through on your commitments will build your relationship, and will let her know that other men in her life are able to be committed and trustworthy.
10. Be a little physical. Sometimes for whatever reason, we are a little stand-offish with our daughters. They do tend to usually be a little more touchy-feely than we are, but you can add an important dimension to your relationship by giving her hugs, goodnight kisses on the cheek and holding her hand. Our girls need to feel our love, not just hear about it.
As we work to build these important relationships, it's important to remember that our daughters need us to be a great dad and the most important male role model in her life. Helping her have a great relationship with you is good for both of you, and will help her be a better companion, wife and mother later in her life.